Maremma, the redeemed land.

Maremmano butteri with Maremmano buffalo cows.
Maremmano butteri with Maremmano buffalo cows.

Maremma is a large area of Tuscany and Lazio along Tirreno sea, from Cecina down to Civitavecchia and inland up to Monte Amiata feet. Its surface is over 5000 sqKms. This land tend to be rather flat specially in those areas close to sea and along Ombrone river while becoming more corrugated inland.

Tuscany during XIV - XVI centuries. Wikipedia
Tuscany XIV - XVI centuries (Wikipedia)

What does Maremma mean ? The etymology is slightly controversial for some it comes from Latin word ‘maritima’ for other ones from Castilian ‘marisma’ meaning swamp.

Originally this word was to describe any low marshy land near the sea where dunes are so high to impede the rivers to flow into the sea or land is so low to let sea waters pour into inland areas. Maremmas were places where living was hard and dangerous because of malaria. There were many swampy areas as such in Italy though the largest one was in between Tuscany and Lazio and along the centuries the name became a place name and was written with capital letter Maremma.

Various sub-areas were distinguished and Maremma became plural i.e. Maremme.

Sub-areas still exist, indeed we refer to Alta Maremma (High Maremma) the one in Northern Tuscany around Leghorn and Pisa, then the central area, Maremma Grossetana, certainly the most well known and more to south Maremma Laziale.

High or Northern Maremma is comprehensive of following towns: Cecina, Bibbona both of Etruscan origins, Castagneto Carducci whose story dates back to 750 when became part of Longobard possession under 'della Gherardesca', Pietrasanta, possibly one of the youngest towns as being founded by Longobards in 1255 only, Rosignano Marittimo of Etruscan origins and then become Longobard town, San Vincenzo of very ancient origins already populated in paleolithic times and important Etruscan town, Monteverdi Marittimo of Roman origins and part of della Gherardesca’s, Populonia now fraction of Piombino one of most important Etruscan towns, Guardistallo with eneolithic origins, then part of della Gherardesca possession and later on part of Volterra possessions and last but not least the precious town of Volterra of villanovians origins.

Volterra. Etruscan arch door.  Volterracity
Volterra. Etruscan arch door.

Maremma Grossetana includes Follonica, Gavorrano, Roccastrada, Grosseto, Massa Marittima, Scansano, Manciano, Magliano in Tuscany, Orbetello, Castiglione della Pescaia, Monte Argentario, Scarlino. all of them of Etruscan origins.

Southern Maremma in Lazio region reckons following towns: Civitavecchia, Montalto di Castro, Tarquinia and Tuscania, all of them again of Etruscan origins.

Orbetello - The Lagoon
Orbetello - The Lagoon.

Even though Maremma was a difficult place to live since the very beginning as you could have learnt there have been prehistoric settlements and later Etruscans and Romans.

History of Maremma almost precisely follow its political divisions not only in the Early Middle Ages but also afterwards until Italy Unification.

In Northern Maremma we find the Longobards family ‘della Gherardesca’ since 750, while in Maremma Grossetana was the important family of Aldobrandeschi that settled down more or less during the same period.

More articulated is the history of Southern Maremma, though all of it saw the presence of Etruscans and Romans afterward history of villages is diverse and very intricated, specially after Roman Empire and saw presences of barbarians, fights in between emperors and popes, corsairs and a lot more, every single village history is a historical treaty by itself.

Anyway history of Northern and Grossetana Maremmas at least until Early Middle Ages is rather homogeneous, in Northern Maremma Gherardesca family (still living now in Florence) and in Grossetana Maremma Aldobrandeschi family as a steady presence for over six centuries allowed these territories to enjoy a strong and rather prosperous economy of feudal type, managing self sufficiency and various agriculture types and maintaining rather good conditions of soils and rivers and consequently containing swamp areas.

Things in Maremmas worsened when feudalism progressively left ground to the emergence of Lordships. Northern Maremma found itself under Florence Lordship while Central Maremma, Grosseto included, became part of Siena Lordship, greatest part of their territories were destined to paid pastoralism, this led to the abandon of most part of cultivations which also caused an almost total lack of care of soil increasing dramatically the extension of swamp areas and no longer containing the invasion of sea water inside the flat lands along the coast.

Pastoralism attracted transhumanist shepherds from central Italy and gave considerable custom return specially to Siena but the lack of care of the territory consistently worsened life conditions and destroyed the previous good agricultural economy consequently malaric areas expanded.

Very little was spared to this land as plagues were recurrent as well as deaths of livestock mainly due to the overflow of rivers and as icing on the cake plagues of locusts from 1711 to 1786.

We have to wait until XVIII century when the Granduke of Tuscany took over Maremma to see the first attempts in Northern Maremma for start (and progressively to Central) draining this enormous area of more than 5000 Km2 (¼ the whole Tuscany) of scarsely cultivated land and now an enormous marshland interrupted only by dense wild bushes.

Though the many attempts and the many victims included a Lorena Granduke, Ferdinando III, who was infected by malaria during one of inspections in Maremma and shortly after died (1824), Maremma attempted draining results even though more successfully in Northern Maremma could not totally resolve the problem.

Much worse was indeed the situation in Central Maremma due to its extent and to worse conditions. We have to wait until the beginning of XX century, after 1920 under Mussolini leadership when technology finally allowed to employ tractors and modern pumps and the introduction of a new administrative settlement of territory to see more considerable improvements though total drainage was completed only after II World War during 1950s when at last malaria was defeated in Southern Maremma as well.

Actually Central Maremma and Southern Maremma have been returned to their initial agricultural vocation and are fertile lands of extraordinary beauty and authenticity, miles of beautiful coasts most of them untouched where little or none industry have been developed, maintaining precious remains of a gorgeous Etruscan and Medieval past.

It is also a land where nature have been preserved and where you can admire turtles laying eggs in the sand and flamingoes resting. It’s also a land of large farm properties where white Maremmano buffaloes with their enormous horns are raised and sheep are in custody of feisty Maremmano shepherd dogs, the Maremmano horses are also raised, not mentioning the very last rediscovery of indigenous Macchiaiolo pigs.

Food reflects the territory, you can find the famous ‘paranza’ fried fishes in the same place where you can appreciate wild boar dishes because the Mediterranean scrub goes down to the last dune along the coast as well as hams, sausages and salami and DOP pecorino , wines as Morellino together with a large production of quality vegetables and fruits one can buy even along roads.

One thing stands up in the overall is that you can do all these discoveries at a slow pace, no jams and few traffic lights, large parking areas by the sea, free access to most part of the coast often underlined by pine trees with the pervasive scent of rosemary underneath.

It is a land that offers itself openly, generously and friendly in a straightforward manner and it is ready to welcome you.

Porto Ercole
Porto Ercole